Janina Fialkowska plays Chopin

Janina Fialkowska
Chopin Recital
ATMA Classique ACD22597

The Candian pianist Janina Fialkowska is a new name to me, though she has evidently been delighting audiences in her native MontrĂ©al and further afield in Canada and the US for many years. She won the inaugural Rubenstein competition in 1974, building up a reputation in Mozart and Chopin, as well as in some of the latter’s less well known Polish cousins from Moszkowski to Paderewski. Born to a Polish father and Canadian mother, this is Fialkowska’s first disc since returning from a break caused by illness. Coming somewhat in advance of the flood of pianistic activity that will mark Chopin bicentenary year, this refined and unfussy recital disc is therefore doubly welcome.

The selection includes a handful of Mazurkas and Waltzes, the Preludes in F-sharp minor and A-flat, the third Ballade, first Scherzo and F-sharp Barcarolle. The Grande valse brillante in F is dispatched with a fearlessness that took me quite by surprise, with the softer passages showing no signs of the athletic strains imposed by crazed ballroom tour that surrounds them. Similarly, the impassioned opening of the B minor Scherzo is breathtaking both in its precisely articulated virtuosity and in the ease with which she retreats into the work’s many brooding resting places.

One of the highlights is the B major Nocturne. A delicate flower, this, with middleground rhythms so diffuse that most pianists, fancying it as opportunity for rubatissimo, render the whole thing practically incomprehensible. But Fialkowska proves herself to be more than a cut above, producing an absolutely delightful reading which allows Chopin’s stretched melody to appear as if floating on a passing breeze. The trilled section before the coda is judged to perfection: nothing fancy, just precisely the gentle blurring of line the composer intended.

The A-flat Ballade provides another example of Fialkowska’s grown-up musicianship. The lightest of the four Ballades, it is in some senses the hardest to play because there is less to commit to, so many of the episodes seeming to retreat from the possibility of full-blooded development. But here as elsewhere, Fialkowska simply takes Chopin’s notes on their own terms, inhabiting fully each transient area of exploration but never pushing the matter too far.

Popular Posts